Thursday, 28 November 2013

Performance Agreements

A performance agreement is something a lot of bands have never even heard of.
Most gigs are booked on a handshake, a phone call or an email.

But what happens when it all goes wrong?

What happens if you are booked to play a big gig this weekend, the promoter has spent thousands on advertising, stages and production and at the last minute your singer has an accident and can't sing.

If no performance agreement is in place, the promoter is left out of pocket and you will be left with the worst reputation in the world.

A performance agreement details everything that will and could happen so that in the event something goes wrong (trust me, one day it will), then you are covered and everyone knows what will happen. You will walk away from the situation with an intact reputation as a band who does what they say they are going to do.

Performance Agreements are a legal document that lay out...
  • Who you are
  • Where you are playing
  • What time you will arrive
  • What time you will start playing
  • How long your breaks will be and how many you will take
  • When you will finish
  • When you will pack up
  • How much you will charge
  • How and when you will be paid
  • Any other costs (transport, accommodation, GST)
  • Any other benefits (meals, drinks).
As well as these things, it details softer things like:
  • What happens if the venue cancels the gig
  • What happens if you cancel the gig
  • What happens if the gig has to be cancelled due to weather or safety
  • Who is liable if something gets damaged or stolen
Its all scary stuff, but it happens every day and bands get caught out and end up in a world of pain.
Plenty of bands can tell stories of going up to a bar to get paid at the end of the night only to find the bar wants to doc $100 bucks off their fee because they didn't play for as long as they said they would, or the bass player drank a whole pile of beer.

A good performance agreement avoids all doubt and eliminates uncertainty for all parties.
It makes you look professional and above all else, it will get you loads of gigs and filter out a load of shit gigs. If a venue is not prepared to sign a performance agreement then its not worth playing at that venue (ie they are probably going to screw you).

I spent a lot of time putting together a bulletproof performance agreement for a band I used to play with called Deaf Lemon, this should give you a good starting point for developing your own. This document got us loads of great gigs and saved us on a number of occasions when things went wrong.
Get it here.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Getting the Gigs

Summer is coming and that means its the busiest time of year to be in the music business.

Or is it?

I still get the odd person mention that there aren't enough local performers in the lineup of summer events.
As someone who deals with most of the local concert and event organisers and many from out of town as well, I campaign local performers wherever I can. However, there is still a big gap between what Wairarapa performers offer and what event organisers are being offered from out of town performers.

This has nothing to do with musical ability and talent or even if you are local or not.

Its professional business cards, its promo packs, its media packs, its professional quality DVD demo videos.
Its references from clients and glossy brochures.
Its photos of large audiences having a great time dancing to them.
Its promotional offers, discounts for payment in advance.
Its bands operating as GST registered companies.
Its professional riders, professional equipment and a professional attitude.

Its making it easy for an event organiser to book your band.

If you don't do the things above, it makes it just that little bit harder for you to get booked.
Event organisers want a safe bet.
They want to book a band they know have a lot to lose if they screw up the gig or don't turn up.
They want to book a band that has a vested interest in making the event a success, because their event is their next reference for getting the next big gig.

Reputation counts for a lot and event organisers are an extremely conservative bunch who avoid risk at all costs.

They want to know that the band are going to bring along a big crowd with them and they will have heard of you or even better know your music.

Put yourself in the shoes of an event organiser running an event with a $200,000 budget...
You are running the event as a GST registered business and you get offered two bands.

Band A is a local band, they have done a few gigs and have a good local following. They quote you on the phone 'about' $800 cash to do the gig but will knock $100 off if you shout them beer during the gig. They can get down to your gig after the drummer finishes work about 2 hours before the show.

Band B is from Wellington, they courier you a pack containing a DVD presentation and a glossy brochure.
Inside are references from major outdoor concerts and corporate clients.
They provide you a written quote of $2500 + GST with a 5% prompt payment discount if you pay in advance. They have a written performance agreement that details what they will do and provide, when they will turn up and what rights you have in various scenarios (perhaps if the bass player get sick and can't play).

Who do you book?
You don't even hesitate booking band B.
Band A doesn't have a shit show in hell of getting booked for this event.

Its not about cost or talent.
Its all about risk.

Band A are a bit risky while Band B presents very little risk indeed and if you are running a $200k event, you don't want any risk when it comes to entertainment. You would far sooner pony up a bit more cash and sleep easy at night knowing that side of it is under control.

Next week, I'll detail the guts of a professional performance agreement so you can see the sort of thing that needs to be agreed in advance of a gig.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The real music industry

Musicians sometimes like to kid themselves that they are the ones with the product.
Musicians write and record material and sell it to music consumers, right?

Maybe this is how it used to be, but the tables have now turned and Musicians are now the customer.

Globally, Musicians spend in excess of $17 billion dollars per year on musical instruments and equipment.
The music services industry is a multi billion dollar industry on top of this and focuses on selling musicians websites, promotions, recording studio services, equipment rental and a myriad of other services that have sprung up to help musicians 'make it big'.
All up this industry is estimated to be worth in excess of $18 billion annually.

Now the sad part, Globally, music sales and performance rights for music came to a little over $10 billion in 2012. But that's not even the sad part, the musicians themselves only make a fraction of this $10 billion, most of which goes to the record labels and producers.

That means musicians spend well in excess of $35 billion dollars a year in order to make back a tiny percentage of a shrinking pool of $10 billion.

In case you hadn't noticed, you are the customer.

The Spotify story tells it all, there are more than 20 million songs on Spotify but only 6 million paid consumers.
There are more musicians than listeners and we wonder why the music industry is in trouble.

Most musicians have second jobs and work long hard hours to spend on their music.
This makes them an appealing target to sell to because they are passionate about music and willing to spend whatever it takes in order to 'make it'. Musicians are prepared to live on the bones of their arse while shelling out thousands of dollars to major corporates for new guitars and amplifiers, drum kits etc. Don't forget websites like Reverbnation that take millions of dollars off musicians in order to promote them to consumers.

News flash, Reverbnation has 2.5 million paid members who are all musicians trying to get noticed.
Pretty much the only people that visit Reverbnation are other musicians trying to get noticed.
So you pay Reverbnation a fee so you can get noticed by other people on Reverbnation who are also trying to get noticed.

Man, I wish I had have thought of that.

Revebnation is just one example, there are hundreds of others, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Youtube, Ampcast, TheMusicSocial, PromoteIt etc etc etc even Facebook is now vying for your dollar.

My point in all this is, be careful.
Be aware that making it in the music industry is now next to impossible simply because of the volume of other people who are also trying to do the same thing.
Be aware that the music industry is now more about exploiting musicians who are trying to make it than what it is about actually selling your music to consumers.

Add up how much you have spent on music and then add up how much you have made back from CD sales and royalties and you will see what I mean.

You are part of a $35 billion dollar industry that is focused on taking money off musicians in exchange for selling them the chance at the dream. Be careful and don't get sucked in. Most of all have fun and don't take it too seriously and then at least you won't die of depression.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

What is good?

I went and saw a band the other night (who will remain nameless).

They were ok.

The thing that struck me was the drummer.
He was both awesome and terrible at the same time and here is why.

As a standalone drummer he was great, technically highly proficient, perfect timing and he knew all the tricks. The problem was that he used all the tricks all the time. It was a constant barrage of flicks, drops and rolls which during a drum solo would be cool but all the time through the whole song was totally distracting.

It was almost as bad as this guy:

I've always thought that the mark of a really great musician is that you only notice how awesome they are when they stop playing. Overplaying is a bad habit to get into and is usually the mark of someone trying to prove how awesome they are.

I personally love it when a great musician does really simple things exceedingly well and then every now and then when you least expect it pulls something out of the hat that is just pure genius. Its like toying with the audience, holding it all back and then letting it all go for just long enough for you to be blown away and then pulling it right back again to simple.

The empty space in music is just as important as the notes that are played. The odd trick here and there is cool but if the entire extent of your musical repertoire is a constant stream of trick after trick it soon becomes tiring. Not only that, it detracts from what the other musicians in your band are doing. In the video above, the bass player is actually really good but nobody will remember him for his performance because the drummer stole the show. If your playing constantly steals the show, then you are unlikely to be called upon to play with other musicians very often and your career as a session musician is unlikely to grow.

The most successful session musicians make it their priority to make the rest of the band look and sound amazing but every now and then do something that blows you away. More often than not this involves the absence of things as opposed to filling up the mix with notes.

Probably one of the best examples of this is the bass player Pino Palladino. Pino is one of the most highly regarded bass players in the world. He is the most famous bass player you never knew because his name is rarely in lights. He plays with everyone who is anyone, in the bands of some of the greatest, yet you will hardly seem him in the live videos and you will rarely see him do a fancy solo with a million notes in it.

Are there more technically competent bass players in the world - undoubtedly.
But Pino is an absolute master in simplicity. He is amazing because you know that if he wanted to he could bust out the most technically complex bass lines you have ever heard, but instead has the self control to not play where others would go nuts. It is this self control that see's him get call after call from the very best of the best musicians in the world asking him to play session bass in their bands.

Rather than filling up the page with more words, I'll let Pino do the talking with his amazingly bass playing.

Here he is showing how empty space and simplicity make a great bass line.

Now for something completely different, here is playing session bass with "The Who" and check out the bass solo.

A total style flip again playing some R&B with D'Angelo.

You might struggle to see him in this one, but he is there playing bass with David Gilmour / Pink Floyd.

Hiding out again, this time with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and Phil Collins.

Here is one of the few occasions where he totally lets loose and shows how stunningly good he really is.

So next time you are tempted to do some blisteringly complex technical riff all over your band mates, ask yourself. What would Pino do here?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A small rant

Its time for another rant, this time aimed at Guitarists.

Quad guitar stacks suck (I'm talking about the classic 'Marshall Stack')!
The level at which they suck cannot be adequately expressed in words on this page.
They are more sucky than a very sucky thing.

They seem like such a good idea when you are standing in a music shop being egged on by an eager salesman keen to pocket the extra commission and who name drops a list of artists who use that particular amplifier on stage with an 80's rock video playing on the screen behind you.

Here is the thing, those artists might actually have those amps sitting on stage but I'd put money on it that they aren't plugged in. They are paid product placement and the real amp the artist is using is more than likely out the back in a noise booth and is considerably smaller. No 'A list' guitarist anywhere in the world worth their salt actually uses a quad stack that is plugged in.

The thing with quad stacks is that they are all show and very little about them is good for producing great guitar tone. In fact if you were going to set out to design something to do a poor job at being a guitar speaker cabinet you would struggle to design something worse than a quad.

Firstly, the arrangement of the 4 speakers basically creates highly directional narrow beam of sound that goes everywhere you don't want it to go and nowhere you do. Most guitarists point their amps out into the crowd. A quad amp has a focal point nearly 20 meters in front of it so that means while you are stuggling to hear and are constantly turning it up, the poor people in the 10th row are being blasted while your sound engineer sits out the front cursing the bajeezus out of you. Quads would be the ideal cabinet if your ears grew on your knees.

Quad cabinets are incredibly efficient at converting electrical energy into sound pressure. If you were building a PA system this would be a good thing, but in a guitar cabinet this is actually a really bad thing. Guitars sound best when the amplifier is working really hard and generating lots of harmonic distortion. This only happens when the tubes are really working hard. The problem with a quad is that it is so efficient that you can never turn the amp up loud enough to get to that great harmonic generating level because it blows your eardrums out. If you do, the rest of the band turns up creating a wave of noise, blowing any siblance of seperation out the window and basically destroying your sound.

Here are some traits of the ideal guitar amplifier, you will notice they are almost the polar opposite of a Quad:

  • it has a single small speaker (5" to 12" max).
  • the speaker is particularly inefficient.
  • the amplifier section itself is not that powerful (10w to 15w is ample)
  • it can be tilted easily so that it points at your ears, not at your ankles.
  • it can be turned up to full volume without exploding or being insanely loud.
  • it has as few knobs as possible and doesn't have 'digital' anything.

I blame the 80s for the tendancy for modern guitarists to still buy quad stacks.
80's bands used to try outdoing each other by having rows of quad stacks across the back of the stage.
The reality was that none of them were actually plugged in and often they were just an empty shell stage prop.
The real guitar amps were hidden under the stage and mic'd up.
This caused every teenage boy in the world to want to own a quad stack despite the fact they made the worst guitar amps in the world. The manufacturers lept onto this trend and saw it as an opportunity to sell over-priced equipment to the masses.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Technical Talk - Riders

As a Sound Engineer, I get to see a lot of technical riders.
Some are good, most are astonishingly bad.

For those that don't know, a technical rider is a short document that explains all the technical aspects of your band. A basic tech rider has the following information.
  • A simple diagram showing where you stand on stage.
  • A list of your instruments and vocalists as well as how many 'channels' each uses.
  • A list of any specific or unusual requirements.
Most bands severely underestimate the importance of having a good (and up to date) technical rider.
It is a bit like a CV, it tells the sound engineer and tech team a lot about the band and what to expect before you even show up. If you do a poor job with your tech rider, the sound engineer is likely to write you off in advance and not put in the care and effort required to achieve a great sound. It also may mean when you show up at a venue or event you don't have everything you need to put on the best show possible. This causes stress. Stress if not your friend.

Being up to date is also important, I have lost track of the number of times I have received what looks like a great tech rider and then spent hours setting up a system to the exact technical specs that have been sent only to have the band turn up with several different instruments, 2 extra singers or a comment such as "where did you get that rider from, its really old, we all go on opposite sides of the stage now".

This makes your sound engineer mad.
Making your sound engineer mad is never a good idea because they can make or break your performance.
An competent and engaged sound engineer can be the difference between a ho hum performance and a standing ovation so never under estimate the importance of making your sound engineer happy.

Sending through a poorly written or just plain wrong tech rider will not only make your sound engineer mad but it will also likely cause them to stop caring about your best interests. If your band doesn't care about the technical side of your performance, then why should they?

Here are some tips to creating a standout tech rider that makes your tech crew happy and will ensure you have a great gig.

  • Put a date on it, right up the top there and put an expiry date on it stating that if the rider is older than a certain date they should contact you to get an updated version.
  • Put the phone number and email address on it for someone who understands tech stuff. Don't put your booking agents number or your promoter or the number of a flat you used to live at 3 years ago. Promoters and agents don't give a toss about technical things other than how much they cost and when a tech rings these people they are more likely to get the wrong answer to a question.
  • Draw an accurate stage layout and mark on it where vocalists stand, how many monitors you need, what instruments go where. This is important as your tech team will spend a considerable amount of time preparing the stage to ensure you are not tripping over cables and that the stage looks good. Changing things around after its all set up increases the chances of something going wrong and usually ends up being messy.
  • List your instruments and how many channels each use. If you only use two tom drums then state it on the rider. There is nothing worse than having "Drum Kit" written on a rider and then have the drummer turn up with 7 tom drums. This will be a major headache for your tech crew as they will likely have to re-patch the entire mixing console or may not have brought enough microphones.
  • Don't be too demanding, unless you are Iggy Pop you probably shouldn't go too overboard with your requests.
  • If your singer is a douche-bag, then drop a subtle hint that this is the case so that the tech team can be prepared. For example.. "Our lead singer has been known to drink too many bourbons and spill drinks into monitor wedges so we recommend taking precautions". This kind of stuff is highly appreciated as steps can be taken to avoid issues during the show.
  • Clearly state what equipment you are bringing and what equipment you need to be provided. Ambiguity is not good in this section and will result in last minute panic.

Finally, when you advance the show, tell the tech team what time you expect to arrive and when you will be available for a sound check. On the day, if you are running late or early, call the tech team to advise this is the case. Techs do not like surprises and they especially don't like getting a call 40 minutes after you were supposed to arrive to tell them that you are running 4 hours later.

Here is an example of an international quality rider, obviously yours does not need to be this detailed but it gives a good indication of the level of clarity required in a good rider.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The game is about to change

Spotify is a game changer. Its a disruptive technology that has massive implications for the music industry and unless musicians realise that and change their approach, we are going to struggle in this new world. Spotify is also the best thing for 'real' musicians since the invention of the CD.

In the old days, people used to buy music before they had heard it. There was a buzz before an album came out. Reviewers often got it in advance and added or detracted from that buzz.

Then, the album hit the stores and thousands of people went out and bought it before they had even heard it.
How many products to you buy these days without knowing what they are going to be like?

Precisely none, you don't go to the supermarket and buy a carton of milk and get it home hoping its going to be a really great carton of milk only to open it and find that it wasn't as tasty as the last one you bought. Every carton of milk you buy is the same and you know what you are getting in advance.

The old industry model was great for the record labels because to be quite frank, they could sell complete shite music and make a bundle of money out of it. Then when everyone realised it was shite music, the label would move onto the "next big thing" and pedal that shite. This is how the "One hit wonder" was born.

Those days are gone.

In the future, people will not buy music, they will rent it and artists will get paid for the number of times that consumers play their tracks instead of buying it upfront.

Now consider your own CD collection. How many albums do you have that you played a few times and then relegated to a dusty CD rack never to be played again. But, I bet you have a few albums that are absolutey brilliant that you play again and again and never get tired of.

This is why the rise of Spotify is so good for the art of music.
The new model incentivises the creation of really great music instead of mediocre throw away crap.

Artists and Labels will have to start thinking long term instead of just aiming for a place on next months chart then dropping off and moving onto the next big thing.
A good quality song or album could continue to generate income on Spotify for decades while a crap throw away song might generate a few bucks for a week.

This is good news for good musicians and also good recording studios and producers who have all suffered under the iTunes model where it is possible to pedal sub standard music recorded in your own garage. Those days are about to be over and songs and albums that take months or even years to develop into masterpeices will rise once again.

The new target will become "Long Term Popularity" instead of "Chart Success".